News roundup for Tue, Jun 28, 2022

In short
  • There’s a deadly meningococcal outbreak in Florida
  • The Louisiana insurance market is collapsing, leaving thousands uninsured ahead of hurricane season
  • The Rio Grande is predicted to dry up completely all the way to Albuquerque this summer
Deadly meningococcal outbreak in Florida

Affecting:

Symptoms of meningococcal disease can first appear as a flu-like illness and rapidly worsen. Meningococcal infections can lead to meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and bloodstream infections (septicemia), both of which can quickly become deadly.

CDC is recommending people at risk get vaccinated: MenACWY for men, and MenB for college students.

Meningococcal meningitis’ most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck

Additional symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (eyes being sensitive to light)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)

Meningococcal septicemia’s (aka meningococcemia) symptoms may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Vomiting
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest, or abdomen (belly)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • In the later stages, a dark purple rash
Large gatherings could spread monkeypox (MXP), but risk to the general public remains low
  • >4,000 cases across 47 countries
  • 1 death (in non-endemic countries)
  • The disease is still spreading mostly between men who have sex with men, but community spread is also happening, and large gatherings (like festivals) could be dangerous.
  • Many cases in this outbreak don’t present with the classic symptoms of monkeypox (fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a centrifugal rash). Atypical symptoms include: the presence of only a few or just a single injury; lesions that start in the genital or perineal/perianal area and don’t spread; lesions that appear at different (asynchronous) stages of development; and the presence of lesions before fever, malaise, or other constitutional symptoms.
  • Two countries indicated that infection occurred through semen and vaginal fluids. More study needs to be done, but using a condom is advised.
  • The risk of MPX to the general public remains low.
  • Social distancing, washing hands frequently, mask-wearing (if worried about aerosol/droplets), and wearing a condom during sex are recommended.

WHO does NOT consider the monkeypox outbreak a global public health emergency for now, however, “controlling further spread requires intense response efforts.” It’s possible that WHO is being conservative to prevent being accused of over-reacting. WHO will reconvene in a few weeks’ time to reassess the situation:

Cases in the US might be undercounted due to low testing rates. And the widespread could be due to a mutation making it more transmissible.

Extremely transmissible and immunity-evading Covid variants BA.4/5 becoming dominant in the US, children under 5 can finally be vaccinated

Omicron variants BA.4/5 will become dominant in the US “in a few weeks.” Both are able to evade immunity from vaccination and past infections, including previous omicron variant infections (although being recently boosted helps a little).

Pfizer and Moderan’s new boosters work against the new Omicorn variants (although not as good as against the original Omicron):

Children under 5 can now finally be vaccinatedMisinformation will be rampant—here’s what to do about it.

A new large study from The Lancet shows that long Covid affects children of all ages, including infants. The most common symptoms vary by age and usually persist for at least two months. Children up to age 3 had mood swings, rashes, and stomachaches. Children aged 4 to 11 also had memory and concentration problems. The 12- to 14-year-olds had memory and concentration problems, mood swings, and fatigue. Children 3 and under seemed to have the most problems.

Blind or visually impaired people can now order one set of two free Covid tests specially developed for them. The tests can be ordered here. It’s unclear how they work, but they require a smartphone with Bluetooth and to download an app.

The CDC released the Interactive School Ventilation Tool to help improve airflow. You can also build a DYI air purifier that can be used in a classroom following community member Eric’s tips here.

If you still have the interest and mental capacity to read about Covid, here are a couple of recent articles I found interesting and thought-provoking:
Five COVID Numbers That Don’t Make Sense Anymore, and Was the Delta Variant 😂 for Children?

Economy, supply chain, food security

Louisiana’s insurance market is collapsing. At least seven private insurance companies shut down as a result of Hurricane Ida. The collapse of the market threatens to leave tens of thousands of homeowners without insurance during the most dangerous time of year. The turmoil in Louisiana is yet another indication of how ill-prepared the property and insurance industries are to deal with the financial consequences of climate-related disasters.

The US Education Department agreed to cancel $6 billion in student loans for students who have been defrauded.

G7 will ban imports of Russian goldDespite sanctions, Putin says Russia’s trade with China, India, Brazil, and South Africa has risen by 38%. But Russia has now slid into historic debt default.

US port backups are spreading to freight rail. Containers stack up because manufacturers and retailers aren’t picking up and unloading cargo fast enough. Importers trying to handle the flow of goods are seeing costs rise and shipping get more complicated.

Just a reminder that most of the world’s grain is not eaten by humans. Nearly half of all grain is either burned as fuel or eaten by animals.

Via The Economist

The House committee voted to ban the sale of US farmland to Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. The USDA reports that foreign investors owned 37.6 million acres, or almost 3%, of US agricultural land at the end of 2020.

Geopolitics

NATO will increase the number of troops of its high-readiness NATO Response Force from 40,000 to “well over 300,000.” National troops will probably be put on different alert levels as part of NATO’s new force structure so the alliance has more combat-ready forces at its disposal in case of an emergency. NATO is also expected to change its language on Russia from describing it as a strategic partner to a “direct threat.” NATO is still working on convincing Turkey to approve Sweden and Finland’s bids to join the alliance.

The NATO Summit (28-30 June) will also address China for the first time, and the challenges that Beijing poses to NATO’s security, interests, and values. Not so long ago, President Xi Jinping signed a trial order allowing ‘military operations other than war’ beyond China’s borders. More media coverage of the summit here.

Putin will send nuclear-capable missiles to Belarus in the coming months. He also offered to upgrade Belarus’ warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

A Russian group hacked state and private Lithuanian websites in retaliation for Lithuania’s blocking shipments to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave in between the Baltics and Poland.

Ukraine’s intelligence chief is saying that Putin has two years left to live and that if Ukraine continues to receive substantial military aid from its allies, it will score decisive wins in August. Budanov did not present concrete evidence, so it’s unclear if this is true intel or a way to provide a morale boost to Ukraine and its allies or discourage the Russian. Not so long ago, US intelligence claimed Putin had undergone cancer treatment in April.

Opinions: The ‘Fucking Hammer to the Head’ That Could End Putin (explicit title, but features interviews with former senior ODNI officials, CIA, etc) and America ignores Africa at its own peril.

Climate change, environment, extreme weather

NOAA is monitoring three disturbances for possible development:

There is a near 100% chance that a tsunami more than a meter high could hit major cities on or near the Mediterranean coast in the next 30 years, according to Unesco. Tsunamis are not new to the Mediterranean, but the risk is predicted to soar as sea levels rise.

Transportation makes up a fifth of all food system carbon emissions. A recent study shows that food transportation has a higher carbon footprint than previously estimated.

Los Angeles may ban new gas stations as part of its climate emergency plan.

Meta: Welcome to the summer from hell: 2022 is shaping up to be a season of disaster — and a preview of our future.

Extreme heat

Satellite images of Las Vegas illustrate how extreme urban heat islands can be. Unshaded streets got up to 122 F (50 C) during the recent heat dome event.

Via Popular Science

In a world first, Seville, Spain, will name and classify heatwaves in an effort to better protect residents during periods of extreme heat.

Read here about how volunteers are helping protect the homeless from heatwaves.

In pictures: How San Antonio residents are coping with rising temperatures.

US drought

The Rio Grande is predicted to dry up completely all the way to Albuquerque this summer for the first time since the 1980s.

Both of California’s largest reservoirs are at critically low levels. Officials confirmed that last month Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake were at 55% and 40% capacity respectively.

California’s water restrictions are finally making a dent. Demand was 5% lower than anticipated, but officials say the efforts need to be sustained as the summer is still long.

The rest

Now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, there is a risk that extremist groups (from both political spectrum) might call for violence. DHS warned that churches, judges, and abortion providers might be targets of violence “for weeks.” In the meantime, a truck driver in Iowa rammed into an abortion rights protest and injured two people. And police used tear gas to disperse protesters outside of Arizona’s state capitol building.

Here is our guide on how to prepare for and survive civil unrest, and a list of relevant posts.

13% of the US Army National Guard could soon be dismissed due to a Covid vaccination deadline.

SpaceX warned that its Starlink broadband network would become unusable for most Americans if a proposal to use the 12 GHz band for terrestrial 5G is approved.

Wild solar weather is causing satellites to plummet from orbit. And it’s going to get worse as the new solar cycle intensifies. Swarm satellites began sinking toward Earth at an unusually fast rate. The change coincided with the onset of the new solar cycle. Experts think it might be the beginning of some difficult years for spacecraft orbiting our planet.


  • 18 Comments

    • Pops

      On the topic of home insurance, we lived in the Sierra foothills in California several years ago and the only fire insurance we could get was in conjunction with a construction policy. When that was up they canceled us. Fire risk is too high for underwriters, even though we were in town — a tiny town, but one with a fire station ¼ mile from us and a hydrant 50 feet away. I have no idea how people get mortgages. Lots of unforseen consequences of GW.

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      • pnwsarahContributor Pops

        I’m really interested to see how CA’s insurance regulators manage this challenge. In theory, it’s great that the insurance industry’s exposure to climate-driven disasters creates a real economic incentive to build in lower-risk places, but: (1) I’d like to see relative risk reflected in their coverage (i.e., rather than strip coverage from the Sierra foothills, offer coverage to homes with fire-safe construction or more defensible locations, i.e., close to town, fire stations, and hydrants, like you were); (2) it’s totally insane to cover fire in conjunction with construction and then drop folks once they’ve invested deeply in a place the industry deems too risky to insure (Like, what?!?); and (3) much as I am a life-long, hardcore environmentalist and in favor of climate realism, I also care about people and don’t take lightly the impact of suddenly devaluing tens of thousands of homes in a state where affording housing is a struggle and relocation is really hard. I mean, at least the Bay Area+ has a lot of all-cash buyers running around, so a lot of people will be able to get out of uninsurable homes simply because there is a pool of buyers who don’t need financing, but that’s not going to work out for everyone. Also, the fact that certain slice of the California workforce is compensated far out of proportion to everyone else is not great for the state in balance… nor is having a bunch of people living in unsafe areas, regardless of their financial circumstances. 

        The NYT had some good coverage a while back of how the state was dealing with all this… I’d love an update with what’s happened in the last couple of years.

        [Edited to address formatting weirdness.]
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      • Amy S. Pops

        We lost coverage from traditional insurers in California and then got California FAIR plan for basic fire coverage.  I don’t know if other high fire risk states have something similar.  I wonder if other states have similar for hurricane areas.

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      • Eric Amy S.

        “I wonder if other states have similar for hurricane areas.”

        Sure do. Here in Florida, people who can’t get private flood insurance can use “Citizen’s insurance” (state subsidized) as a last resort. See EzzlyAmuzzed’s thread below about problems with insurance in this very hurricane prone state.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_Insurance

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      • EzlyAmuzzed Amy S.

        Yes, on one of my houses I got Citizens which has both Flood and Homeowners policies. Citizens is the state insurance with coverage not as good as regular policies but the cost was lower at least.

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    • Eric

      “[Monkeypox] is still spreading mostly between men who have sex with men…”

      This looks like confirmation bias. Yes, there was a big superspreader event within the gay community, but it’s not even plausible that it wouldn’t also spread to women. Current testing is very focused on men who have sex with men, so that’s the only kind of case that is found.

      I also suspect that monkeypox spreads through the air, just like every other pox virus that we’ve ever faced. Do we actually have any evidence that this is primarily a sexually transmitted disease?

      The same two mistakes were made with COVID in the early days. Only people who recently travelled from China were tested, so public health officials pointed to the percentage of cases coming from China as proof that there wasn’t community spread. And they also kept referring to COVID as spread by touch, encouraging people to wash their hands often, but COVID spreads primarily through the air.

      6 |
      • Carlotta SusannaStaff Eric

        MXP does not seem to be primarily a sexually transmitted disease. But it spreads through close proximity so having sex with an infected individual can put you at risk. Having said that, spread through semen and vaginal fluids are being investigated.

        And yes, it can spread through the air, hence why I’ll keep recommending wearing a mask.

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      • Greg P Carlotta Susanna

        Ditto on masks for meningitis – mostly see outbreaks in folks that live in close quarters – college students, inmates.  Not as transmissible as COVID, but way more deadly.  If you get septic (meningococcemia) then mostly you die & very quickly at that.  Up north here ( Midwest) we mostly see it in the winter when folks are indoors together a lot.  Very worrisome that there is an outbreak in Florida in the summer.  Have plans to visit my aged mother in Florida next month.  I’ll have to keep an eye on this – thanks for the heads up.

        Re: insurance implosion –  We will see a surge in climate refugees from Florida & Louisiana in the next few years since we know that hurricanes are not going away.  I would get out now if I were living there.

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      • Karl Winterling Eric

        Using a condom is a good idea because of highly speculative initial data, but it shouldn’t color your initial impression of how monkeypox spreads because we don’t really know enough about that yet. It looks like the spread is still consistent with it being primarily airborne, which would also explain a superspreader event involving people having sex.

        It isn’t that people oppose doing something about COVID. It’s that they were initially told you just need to wash your hands and cough into your elbow. People have a cognitive bias in favor of advice from authority figures that does not change. If advice changes, people think of it as “flip-flopping” and lose trust in institutions. You have to emphasize uncertainty and caution from the beginning.

        Even if it isn’t realistic for the government to get as much buy-in from the population as it did in March and April 2020, there are still options it can use to respond to both monkeypox and COVID (without Congress necessarily authorizing spending):

        • Actually improve CDC messaging, including to vaccine hesitant people rather than treating vaccine skeptics like political enemies.
        • The CDC could say it will back up local public health authorities who choose to issue requirements that are stricter than CDC requirements.
        • Develop plans to help both people vulnerable to infection and people who want to avoid infection or exposure.
        • Most people are tired because politics is so polarized. A way to reach people might be to, for example, get people together who are “ideologically diverse” but agree we should do something to respond to disease threats and improve public health systems.

        Polarization is created by the focus on a winner-take-all perception of elections since the 1992 election and politicians turning everything into a wedge issue. It isn’t created by “fatigue” over pandemic restrictions or crises.

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    • Maarten Vaerewijck

      Really appreciate these roundups!

      8 |
    • Karl Winterling

      Jane’s Revenge is a militant pro-abortion rights group that has claimed responsibility for several attacks against churches and Crisis Pregnancy Centers (organizations that try to convince women not to get abortions and connect them with resources). It seems like nobody has been hurt or injured, but there’s no guarantee that someone wouldn’t accidentally burn a building down with people inside.

      On the one hand, it’s possible that Jane’s Revenge are agents provocateurs trying to make people who support abortion rights look bad. On the other hand, the claimed attacks seem consistent with attacks committed by militant far-left groups, especially with the focus on arson, vandalism, property destruction, and (usually) avoiding hurting people. The Department of Homeland Security said it will keep an eye on them,

      I would say sources like the National Review and Catholic News Agency are generally reliable, while other pro-life/anti-abortion sources are less reliable.

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    • EzlyAmuzzed

      Florida homeowners insurance is also collapsing with many companies going under.

      https://www.eenews.net/articles/this-is-not-a-survivable-market-insurance-crisis-hits-fla/

      In March we paid our yearly premium of abut $1800, then 2 days later it went under, but our agent and I didn’t know about it until May when they finally sent a letter. We have contacted a state agency for a claim to get the money back but that will take months. 

      We had policies from this company for both our home and another we own that my parents live in and in one of them we couldn’t get insurance and had no choice but to get the state insurance and the second we have specialty insurance. Its a mess here.

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      • So sorry to hear about that. I hope you can get your money back.

        Is a possible solution here to go with a larger company like State Farm or Geico over the smaller insurance companies that might be more at risk of closing up shop? I’m all for supporting the cheaper and newer insurance companies and hate how big some of these larger organizations can get because once you get so big then they really distance themselves from the customer and at times don’t give you the best customer service. But the alternative is more risk of them not being there for you in your time of need because they have gone under.

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      • No I literally only had 1 choice, its all a matter of who will take us with no luxury to choose. 2 years ago I had a choice between 2, 4 years ago I had a choice between 3. Each of those times I had to shop because the companies were pulling out of Florida.

        And the price keeps going up and up, mostly due to insurance fraud, specifically over roofing. Now almost all companies require Florida policy holders to get a new roof every 10 years because of this or you risk loosing coverage.

        https://www.insurancebusinessmag.com/us/news/breaking-news/revealed–whats-tearing-apart-floridas-homeowners-insurance-market-410816.aspx

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      • That is mind blowing to me. Also very sad to see that those insurance scammers who think they aren’t hurting everyone because “they are only taking money from a large corporation who has more money than they know what to do with” are actually hurting the good people like yourself who no longer have options.

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      • Eric EzlyAmuzzed

        @EzlyAmuzzed

        Thanks for the heads up. I live in Florida and need to look into this issue. Your linked article talks about a handful of southeast Florida counties making up the majority of the issue: Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. Are you seeing signs of the same issue outside of those counties?

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      • EzlyAmuzzed Eric

        Yes, I’m in NE FL and seeing the same issue. Both my houses have roofs that are <10 years so I haven’t been asked yet, however local news and Nextdoor is indicating people are being asked to replace their roofs early. Wishing you luck Eric.

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    • brownfox-ffContributor

      What you can do about it:

      Good luck this week.

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